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Parents are the Fountains of Our Lives

Why Should We Respect and Support Our Parents

Bhikkhu T. Seelananda

Parents are the fountains of our lives. They are our precious gems. They are the sun and moon in our world, in our family. Father is the sun and mother is the moon. As Buddhists, as well as grateful and faithful sons and daughters, we cannot think of a life without our parents. 

As the Matchless Teacher, the Knower of the World, the Buddha has taught us that it is our bounden duty, a moral obligation to respect and support our parents unceasingly, especially when they reach old age, and when they are feeble or sick.  If one does not support one’s parents in general or in the latter part of their lives in particular; he or she, according to Buddhism, is an ungrateful and uncivilized son or daughter. S/he is an outcaste. The Buddha declared this very clearly in the Wasala Sutta, the Discourse on Outcastes: 

“Yo mātaram vā pitaram vā 
jinnakam gata yobbanam 
pahusanto na bharati  
tam jaññā vasalo iti”. 

(Having much wealth, if one does not maintain, his/her parents; know that s/he is an outcaste).  

On the contrary, in the Blessing Discourse (Mangala Sutta), the Buddha said, “Mātā pitu upatthānam etam mangalam uttamam” means supporting parents is a great blessing. Having good parents, kind-hearted parents, is really a very great blessing to a family, a great fortune. 

As Buddhists, whenever we get together and perform good deeds, meritorious deeds, never forget our parents we commemorate the great virtues of our parents. Specially we commemorate the departed parents affectionately and respect and support our parents while they are alive.  

This is one of the strong Sri Lankan Buddhist traditions in which we respect and become more and more obedient to our parents. In general, we should honour, respect and revere our parents whenever possible. As instructed in the teaching of the Buddha we should respect our parents while they are with us and also after their demise. Intrinsically, we are always ready to listen to our parents. Though we have our own freedom, ideas, and opinions, we keep our parents as the guiding light of our lives. We know very well that without our parents we would not be here today; that is to be understood by all of us very clearly. Who paved the way for all of us to stand on our own two feet? Who sweat days and nights for us, who fed us, who gave us whatever we asked for; in brief, who worked like dogs, like Trojans to make us happy from our earliest days? There was none other than our parents. That is why we should repeatedly respect and support our parents.    

We should respect and support our parents while they are alive. There are some people in our society who try to respect their parents only after their deaths. While they are alive, no one is there to support them and treat them. Sometimes, they die without a sip of water. But right after that the children start to cry and weep and going from place to place build many kinds of monuments spending thousands or millions in their names. But that helps them only a very little. They have gone for good. For the departed ones there is only a very narrow opportunity to receive merit. Therefore, better to do it while alive, today, right now, do your own merit by yourself.  

We see some children who dislike looking after their parents strive to find some excuses saying that they have no time. But when we were little ones our mother or father did not seek such excuses. However, those who seek loopholes are not regarded as truly grateful sons and daughters. This is not the way that we should respect and support our humble and simple parents especially at the time in need. If we are mindful enough we can perform many kinds of meritorious deeds such as generosity, morality and meditation on behalf of our parents while they are still with us and also after their passing away. This is also one of the moral duties of the children.  As the Buddha said, this will be certainly a great help for their samsāric journey. 

If the departed ones have been reborn in a place where they can receive our merit, they will definitely receive it. Otherwise, it is not wasting still it’s yours. Anyhow, by the same token, we all should understand clearly that all those who die cannot receive merit as there are only a few states where beings can receive merit. However, again, that is beyond our consciousness. Whether or not they are ready to receive this merit, it is our duty that we share merit with them, whoever departed us.  

Here it is necessary to understand how we, Buddhists, got this tradition? It is from the Buddha himself. The Buddha, the Self Awakened One, taught us how to treat our parents while they are alive and even after their demise. That is why we perform meritorious deeds in this manner. 

The Buddha emphasized the need of doing more and more good deeds in many a discourse and especially reiterated the significance of respecting and supporting parents. One such well-known discourse where he addressed to clarify some social issues is the Sigālovāda Sutta.

One day, a certain young man having arisen early in the morning, went to the lake, immersed himself and then came out of the lake. With still wet hair and clothing, keeping his joined palms on his forehead, started to prostrate to the different directions of the world. He saluted the East, West, North, South, up and down; these six directions respectively. Seeing this meaningless and groundless salutation, the self Awakened One addressed him and said, “Young Friend, why do you get up so early in the morning and after having taken a bath, with wet hair and wet clothing salute these different directions? Then the young man said, “Ven. Sir, this is what my father said to me just before he closed his eyes. He asked me to pay homage to the six directions and that is what I do right here.” 

Thereafter, the Self-Awakened one said, the salutation to these six directions in the Noble One’s Dispensation is not like this. The young man then was interested and wanted to know the salutation of the Noble One’s Dispensation.  When asked, the Buddha disclosed the six directions. The Buddha said, “Young Friend, six things are to be regarded as six directions, not the six directions in the world. What are these six things then? 

1) East denotes parents, 
2) South denotes teachers, 
3) West denotes wife, children including sons or daughters,
4) North denotes friends, 
5) Nadir or bottom denotes servants or workers, and 
6) Zenith or the top denotes the ascetics, monks or nuns. 

According to Buddhism, these are the different categories of people in society. They are to be respected and treated well in a reciprocal manner. They have their own duties to be fulfilled towards each other. Once the duties are fulfilled, the society becomes a balanced and righteous one. So as the Buddha said, the East denotes Parents and its direct opposite the West denotes sons or daughters. They both in reciprocation should fulfill their duties towards each other. The Buddha recommended five duties to be accomplished by parents and in return, five duties to be accomplished by children towards their parents.  Let us now understand these duties and their moral obligations. 

Parents’ duties: (These are the five ways in which the parents would accomplish their duties towards children)

1. Restrain them from doing evil actions (Pāpā nivārenti)
2. Support and encourage them in doing good deeds (Kalyāne nivesenti)
3. Give them good education and teach them different skills (Sikkham sikkhāpenti)
4. Combine them with a suitable husband or a wife (Patirupena dārena samyojenti)
5. Hand over their inheritance at the proper time (Samaye dāyajjam niyyādenti)

Children’s duties: (These five ways in which a son or daughter should minister to his mother or father)

1. Support them with four requisites-food & drinks, clothing, shelter, and medication (Bhato vā no bharissati) 

2. Perform their duties such as feeding, giving bath, rubbing body, washing feet, raising them and helping them to do whatever they find difficult to do (Kiccam nesam karissati)

3. Keep up the family tradition, name, image (Kulawamsam thassati) 

4. Be worthy of their inheritance (Dāyajjam patipajjissati) 

5. Transfer merit to them after their death (Atha ca pana petānam kālakatānam dakkhinam anupadassati). 
Once the Buddha compared parents to the Brahma, the creator; though actually, parents are the real creators and said, they created us. Here, in reference to parents the Buddha gave three epithets, three special terms, to be used to parents. The Buddha said, “Monks, ‘brahmā’ is a special term to be used to parents, ‘pubbācariya’ is a special term to be used to parents and ‘āhuneyya’ is a special term to be used to parents.” (Brahmāti bhikkhave mātā pitunnam etam adhivacanam, pubbā cariyāti bhikkhave mātā pitunnam etam adhivacanam, āhuneyyāti bhikkhave mātā pitunnam etam adhivacanam.)  

Why did the Peerless One, the Buddha, give these three terms to be used to parents? In the time of the Buddha, in India, people believed that all beings were created by Brahmā, the creator. So the people performed various kinds of sacrifices, at times killing thousands of animals and putting more and more ghee into the fire to propitiate this invisible God, Brahma. The Buddha’s compassionate advice for the people in that time was to consol and respect the Brahma at home. The Brahma at home is none other than your mother and your father. That is how the Buddha put the parents on the very top position in society. The Buddha gave them the best place in that society.  Here it is necessary to understand this concept of Brahma a little further.

According to Buddhism, there are 16 brahma worlds where there are thousands of brahmas. They are those who practiced meditation, mainly the meditation on the four sublime abodes. The four are: loving friendliness (mettā), compassion (karunā), appreciative joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekkhā). All those brahmas have these four qualities. the Buddha, the Self Awakened One, knew very well that all parents have these four qualities. That is why the Buddha compared parents to brahmā. So how can we understand that all parents have these great qualities? All parents have these four great qualities not towards all but towards their children. When a child is in mother’s womb they both have loving friendliness (mettā), after child’s birth they never allow anyone to harm the child, even to a mosquito to sit on the child. In this manner they have compassion (karunā), when the child is growing and becomes a young individual they have appreciative joy (mudita), and when the young man or young lady got married and was living separately, perhaps away from them, the parents have equanimity (upekkha).  In order to illustrate this further I would like to give an anecdote.

Suppose there is one family where there are four children. One is not yet born; towards him the parents have loving friendliness, they always think of the child wishing him/her good health, happiness, and goodwill. The second child is a girl; when born, unfortunately was lame and deformed; all the time parents are concerned about her future and whenever they think of her, they contemplate on how they should relieve her of this unsympathetic situation; that is compassion. The third child is a son full of talents, with many inborn abilities, has schooling, and is doing very well; he is in grade 12 now. The parents have confidence and are happy about his life and future. Whenever they think of him they have sympathetic joy. Now the oldest child of the family is a girl who has married a very nice fellow, a doctor. They are living in a far away city together with their children. They are living happily and peacefully because they are more religious minded and contented. They lead a stress free life. So whenever the parents think of them they have an equanimous attitude towards them. This is why the parents are called Brahma.    

So let us now understand why parents are to be called pubbācariya. Pubbācariya means pre-teachers or first teachers. Our parents are the first teachers of our lives and they have taught us many things. From a very young age, they taught us how to rise, how to walk, how to talk, how to sit, how to eat, how to drink, how to wear clothing, how to comb our hair and brush teeth, and even how to sleep.  That is why we should respect and support them as our first teachers in this life.

The next term that the Buddha recommended us was ‘Ahuneyya’ meaning, those who are worthy of offerings. This term was used to illustrate the virtues of the Sangha, the disciples of the Buddha. So, the Buddha again elevated the parents to the state of the noble disciples of the Buddha, compared to the Noble Sangha. Not only that the Buddha compared parents to the Buddha himself. We compare parents to the Buddha and say, ‘Buddhoviya mātā, mother is like a Buddha. We, Sri Lankans, regard mother as the Buddha at home “gedara budun ammā”. As most of us know well, in the Blessing discourse, the Buddha recommended 38 kinds of blessing where the Buddha said, “pujāca pujaniyānam etam mangalam uttamam” which means; honour, respect, to those who are worthy to be respected. For Buddhists first and foremost they respect the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha, the Triple gem; right after that they respect their parents because they are certainly worthy to be respected, worthy of any offerings.  

One night illuminating the whole monastery of Jeta’s Grove with his effulgent beauty, a certain deity came to the Buddha and asked:

“What is the friend of one on a journey? 
(In a group like in a caravan)
What is the friend in one’s own home?
What is the friend of one in need?
What is the friend in the future life?”

The Buddha then said:
A leader is the friend of one on a journey;
A mother is the friend in one’s own home;
An intimate when the need arises 
Is one’s friend again and again
The deeds of merit one has done
That is the friend in the future life.”

So as the Buddha said here, “Mātā mittam sake ghare” mother is the friend in one’s home. Mother is really the best friend at home. Even as a Buddhist monk who got ordination at the age of 11, I know better how my own mother became the best friend to me while I was at home and yet even after my going forth from home to homeless state. That is ordination. She is a great blessing to me through out the life. 

In accordance with the teachings of the Buddha, a young lady becomes a mother from the day that she was conceived. For the conception of a being three factors are to be accomplished. What are these three?

Ø Parents union (mātāpitaro sannipatitā honti)
Ø Mother is in due season (mātāca utuni hoti)
Ø Arrival and descent of consciousness (gandabboca paccu patthitā  hoti)

With these, conception takes place and from that day the foetus, embryo, is a being. If one destroys it that is a killing, a murder. Don’t be a murderer. It is a grave offence. 

Once, the Buddha addressing the monks asked, “Monks which is more, the tear that you have shed because of the mother’s death throughout this samsāra, the cycle of births and deaths or the water in the four great oceans. The monks said, Ven. Sir, as we now understand the teaching of the Buddha, it is clear that the tear that we have shed because of the mother’s death is more than the water in the four great oceans. Samma Sambuddha then said, “Monks, this itself is enough for the disenchantment from all conditioned things, dispassion from all conditioned things, and release from all conditioned things”. In accordance with the teaching of the Buddha, all conditioned things are impermanent, when one sees this through wisdom, one turns away from suffering that is the Way, Path to purity. 

Friends, if we are mindful enough and become more concern about others we can understand that everybody can look after his or her parents. Unfortunately, only a few in societies do they want to look after them, respect and support them. For that also one should have developed good qualities such as love, compassion, and generosity.  Those who have such qualities are called sappurisa, true friends who have basically three characteristics:

1. Always think to do good things (sucintita cinti)
2. Always talk to do something good ( subhāsita bhāsi)
3. Always do what is good (sukata kamma kāri)

Intrinsically, such a good person is always ready:

1. to respect & support his /her parents,
2. to respect & support the adults.
3. His speech is pleasant and uses word, which is dear to the ear and heart.
4. He/she never backbites.
5. He/she is generous.
6. He/she speaks what is truth.
7. He/she is with full of metta, loving friendliness. 

When we contemplate this further we can understand clearly that those who think positively and understand things correctly come to the decision to support parents. This right understanding is very much significant. This is what we call Sammā ditthi, right understanding or right views. This is the first step of the Noble Eight fold Path. Those who have wrong understanding or wrong views can never think in this manner. There are ten wrong views:

1. There is no good results of giving.  
2. There is no good results of offering.
3. There is no good results of performing some sacrifices.
4. There are no fruits, no results of doing good karma or bad karma.
5. There are no other existence of beings to come to be reborn in this world. 
6. For those living here there are no other world systems to be reborn. 
7. There is no results of supporting and respecting mother.
8. There is no results of supporting and respecting father. 
9. There are no spontaneous beings in the world.
10. There are no ascetics and recluses who have developed mind and reach the highest levels of holy life. 

As the Buddha said, for those who have such wrong views, have only two destinations. In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha said this very clearly, ”Monks, there are only two destinations for the one who is with wrong views; either animal realm or hells.” (Micchāditthikassa bhikkhave dvinnam gatinam aññatarā gati pārikamkha nirayo vā tiracchānayoni vāti). 

In the time of the Buddha there was such a man with wrong views and also was conceited a brahmin, named Mānatthaddha. He never respected his parents, adults or anyone otherwise in society thinking that he is always superior. That is a conceit which is called ‘superiority conceit’. One day seeing others going to listen to the Buddha he also went to the Buddha. He thought ‘If the Buddha would talk to me, I will talk’; seeing this, the Buddha did not talk to him. So after sometime, the Buddha saw that he was getting ready to depart. Then the Buddha addressed him, “brahmin, did you fulfill your wish? Then being elated, he approached the Buddha and having embraced and kissed the feet of the Buddha said, “Ven. Sir I am Mānatthaddha, I am Mānatthaddha” where the Buddha said, Mānatthaddha do not be that proud. Specially do not be proud towards your parents. Giving such magnificent talk, the Buddha delivered a short sermon and eventually he became a very good lay follower of the Buddha.  

Once the Buddha delivered a special discourse named ” Mātuthañña” means mother’s milk. Here the Buddha said “Monks this samsāra is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving. What do you think monks which is more, the milk that you have drunk from the mother or the water in the four great oceans? The monks said, “Sir as we understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, the mother’s milk that we have drunk is more than the water in the four great oceans”. Then the Buddha said “sādhu sādhu” means very good, very good. ‘Etadeva bahutaram’ That itself is more. That means mother’s milk that we have drunk in samsāra is more than the water in the oceans.
On another occasion, the Buddha said, this Samsāra is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving. “Suppose monks, a man would cut up whatever grass, sticks, branches, and foliage there are in this Jambudvipa (India) and collect them all together into a single heap. Having done so, he would put them down, saying for each one, This is my mother; this is my mother’s mother. The sequence of that man’s mothers and grand mothers would not come to an end, yet the grass, woods, branches, and foliage in this Jambudvipa would be used up and exhausted.”  

So such a long way we have come. Whatever we do for our mother and father as treatment for them to be happy is not certainly enough. Once our Lord Samma Sambuddha said, “Monks there are two persons who can not be reimbursed/paid back. They are the mother and father”. (Dvinnāham bhikkhave na suppatikāram vadāmi matucca pitucca” (A.N. II) The Buddha further said, “Suppose, monks, there is a son who lives 100 years and keeps his mother on his one shoulder and the father on his other shoulder. He treats them well while they are there on his shoulder, does everything for them. Gives them food and drinks, medicine, bath, toilet facilities and cleans all up, and rubbing their body and everything on the shoulder. But the Buddha said, “Monks even though he or she has completed his/her duty in this manner, not yet accomplished. If one would give the state of universal monarch to them is not yet accomplished their duties. But the Samma Sambuddha said, if one’s mother or father has no confidence (saddhā), if the son or daughter could establish her/him on saddhā and if mother or father has no morality (seela),and the son or daughter could establish them on morality, if the mother or father is not generous (cāga) and the son or daughter establishes them in wisdom (paññā) then of cause they have accomplished their duties towards their parents. 

So when we think of our own parents, since they were in the cradle of Buddhism in Asia, they are really lucky that they had full of confidence (saddhā), we know very well that our parents observed morality (seela) whenever possible. They have practiced generosity (dāna) through out their lives. They must have given things [if heaped them up] even higher than their height. And they have practiced meditation as far as they have understood it to develop their wisdom (paññā).  Thus, in brief, they have done various kinds of meritorious deeds. Even the merit that we transfer to them is not that important to them. 

However, as grateful sons and daughters, it is our duty to perform good deeds and share merit with our departed parents.  Therefore, let us all together get together and share the merit that we have already accrued and wish them success of their samsāric journey and eventually attain the state of imperturbable Bliss of Nibbāna!

“Ministering to mother is a very pleasant thing and 
ministering to father is very pleasant thing in the world.” 

[Sukhā matteyyatha loke, atho petteyyathā sukhā]

                    (Dhammapada. 332)

So Let us all understand the significance of respecting and supporting parents in this manner and let us all respect and support our parents while they are alive and extend our good thoughts meritorious deeds towards them after their passing away. 

May our parents attain Nibbāna!

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